A new era for oil and gas
On April 8, 2021 by Khaled al-Blooshi, vice president for digital projects and innovation at Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc)
Abu Dhabi national oil company’s strategy for growth is underpinned by an appetite for digital transformation.
- What do you think has been crucial to shaping Adnoc’s approach as a digital disruptor?
Since the launch of Adnoc’s groupwide transformation programme in 2016, digital was identified as a critical success factor to achieve Adnoc’s 2030 strategy. The digital agenda was strongly supported by the CEO and top management team, and the program was launched with a focus on value creation by solving real business issues and challenges.
We created the Panorama Digital Command centre to drive this programme, but digital solutions is also the focus area for the entire business, and all our operating companies. The exact business value is hard to measure, as there are so many projects changing the way we work and creating lasting value at all levels of the organisation. However, to give a sense of proportion, our Panorama centre alone created net measurable business value of above U$1bn in its first three years of operations.
- How can engineering and construction firms overcome the barriers that are preventing from adopting digital practices?
Most emerging digital technologies are disrupting the way we work, challenging current business processes and may require training. However, most people are naturally more comfortable in executing their work tasks in a repetitive manner, and any change is usually perceived as disturbing this “comfort zone”. It is therefore crucial to make sure the workforce is equipped to understand the potential benefits to their daily work, and how it can be used to solve their everyday challenges.
Experience shows us that when the workforce is engaged, they create their own digital ideas, and become co-owners of new digital solutions. Hence, focus on change management, education and upskilling of digital skillsets are key to breaking down these initial barriers to change.
- Oil and gas continue to play a pivotal role in the GCC’s economies. Do you think this makes it important for companies such as Adnoc to spearhead innovation?
Adnoc clearly has a significant role to play when it comes to innovation, both for digital solutions and more traditional research and development.
At Adnoc, we have clear ambitions to be a major innovation player, and we have recently updated our innovation strategy to reflect this. We will focus on increased cooperation with our current partners and suppliers, strengthen our links to academia both in the UAE and with top universities around the globe, and also expand our local and international partnerships to further our innovation agenda. This can be exemplified through the following examples:
■ We are currently rolling out a groupwide and predictive maintenance programme using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning under a 10-year deal with Honeywell, making it one of the largest programmes of its kind in the entire industry
■ In 2019, we joined forces with the UK-based research consultancy TWI and Saudi Aramco to launch a non-metallic innovation center (NIC) in Cambridge, UK, to research new non-metallic solutions both for the oil and gas and other industries
■ We recently launched AIQ, a new joint venture with Abu Dhabi-based AI company Group 42 (G42) to develop and commercialise AI tools for the global oil and gas industry
- In your opinion, which technologies will play the biggest role in the digital transformation of oil and gas in the coming years?
We might see several disruptive technologies maturing and helping us to achieve better performances, but personally I think it is the combination of technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality, Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, robotics and cloud that will play the major transformational role.
For example; a drone with a built-in AI platform and various IoT sensors can become a new hybrid tool and powerful combination to solve several tasks and functions simultaneously, and various companies are already working to develop such solutions. Successful deployment of such integrated solutions will take us from incremental improvement to leaps in our performance.
- Tell us about your recently launched joint venture AIQ. What are some of the products/services that we can expect to see that combine your AI and oil and gas expertise?
I want to emphasise that we cannot progress in the digital transformation journey on our own and need reliable partners to work closely with us on this journey. AIQ brings together G42’s expertise in AI modeling, supercomputing and its world-class team of data scientists and software engineers with Adnoc’s world-class oil and gas industry know-how, domain experts and its vast amount of data.
This partnership model allows Adnoc to develop AI solutions and applications in a cost-efficient way and strengthens Abu Dhabi’s and the UAE’s position as a global hub for AI and technology-driven industrial growth.
AIQ is part of our strategic objectives to commercialise digital solutions and we are in the early stage of co-development. Going forward, we will be announcing new AI tools specifically in the upstream domain.
- In-country value and localisation are becoming increasingly important in the post-Covid world. Is it a conscious decision on your part then to localise digital capabilities by partnering, for instance with local firms such as G42?
Adnoc has been leading the way in the UAE on our overarching In-Country-Value (ICV) programme, where we seek to foster industrial growth and create more value creation locally.
This also applies to our digital efforts, and the partnership model with G42 allows Adnoc to develop AI solutions and applications in a cost-efficient way, while establishing local expertise.
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With some $3.5tn of major projects planned across the Mena region, the pipeline of future projects is bigger than the $3.1tn combined value of all of the project contracts awarded in the region since 2004. So the potential for the region’s incredible growth story to continue is immense. However, unlocking that opportunity depends entirely on the ability of the region’s projects industry to deliver its digital transformation.
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